Sunday, 9 December 2018

Money and Power - Addendum

In re-reading John Smith's comprehensive Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, I came upon a section that summarises perfectly what I tried to express here. In light of the little-known way of how the profits of exploitation are woven into all areas of our society, it is obvious that real change for the world cannot come about through the present domestic and global political and economic systems, and that the church needs to avoid investment in that system (in a number of senses!) as far as possible as a matter of urgency if it is to have a prophetic witness of any relevance or power.
The central point Norfield is making cannot be emphasized enough, because so many liberals and socialists in imperialist countries try very hard to put it out of their minds. H&M makes handsome profits, to be sure, but these are dwarfed by the state's take, once taxes on wages and profits of H&M and suppliers of services to it are added to its VAT receipts. In 2013 the tariffs charged by the US government on its apparel imports from Bangladesh alone exceeded the total wages received by the workers who made these goods. The state uses this money, as we know, to finance foreign wars, health care, and Social Security, and even return a few pennies to the poor countries in the form of "foreign aid". (John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, Monthly Review Pres, pp.13-14)
The wages earned by the exploited are, of course, rarely if ever enough for a family to subsist on. As Gabrielle Palmer explores in The Politics of Breastfeeding, the exploitation of young mothers in such countries divests their children of the optimum health benefits of breastfeeding. Again, there is a divergence between the ethics that certain conservative evangelicals would espouse at home and the practises that their investments unwittingly encourage.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Who is my Enemy?

If we feel antipathy towards a particular person or group it should be asked whether the reason for that has anything to do with being directly personally attacked, or anything to do with the church's work and mission. If not, then we must ask if we need consider that individual or group an enemy at all.

For example, a neighbourhood thief who hasn't threatened or robbed you or your family; a work colleague slacking off or cutting corners; another nation's government who has made threats against or even attacked the nation you reside in.

If such actions directly affect you, your church, or your family, then the non-resistant ethics of the Sermons on the Mount and Plain should be applied. But if not, resentment or retaliatory action against such people - making them into personal enemies by adopting the priorities of a worldly kingdom, whether political or corporate - would already be at odds with the other-worldly perspective and priorities of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Alfred Williams (1877-1930)

I want to highlight a little-known local hero of mine. My handful of regular readers will understand why Alfred Williams (biography here) strikes a chord with me. Struggle within the capitalist machine, poor health, deep and broad study...

'In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.' (John 16:33)

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Strangers, Exiles, and Gypsies

I've been reading a lot about the Traveller communities in the UK, who can be broadly divided into Romanichal Gypsies and Irish Travellers. The first group are descended from Indian migrants who first wandered into Europe some 1,500 years ago, and whose Romani language still shows its roots in Hindustani. They have been hated and persecuted throughout Europe for much of that time, and still stir up feelings of antipathy today from those who see them as troublemakers who refuse to settle down and live like the rest of the populace. Interestingly (and rarely known or commented on by mainstream churches), many UK Travellers have turned to a more evangelical faith, with possibly 40% of the whole demographic now Pentecostal, perhaps providing a rare modern-day example of 1 Cor 1:26-30 in action.

Damian Le Bas, himself of Gypsy descent and upbringing, sums up the Gypsy philosophy as he sees it in his recent travelogue The Stopping Places:

that it is possible to live in a different way… being part of the world, but not imprisoned by the rules.

This and his general descriptions of Gypsy life could not help but make me think of certain phrases from Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God...13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city...36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Now, I don't want to claim that the Traveller communities are God's children by virtue of their nomadic lifestyle. Their societies show all the marks of sin as much as any other culture, and they are in need of the gospel as much as anyone else. But it seems to me that their mode of living speaks of something that Christians should aspire to - that sense of being different to the world, of travelling through, of not seeking vainglorious ways of changing a deeply corrupt and evil wider society, but focussing on the health of the family in the home and church as the major tasks to get on with as the NT epistles constantly affirm.

Indeed, it might not be long before the faithful church in the UK finds itself as hated as the Travellers have been. The question is whether our mindset will be prepared enough to embrace that situation of alienation, to see it as our calling, rather than to crumble under the weight of persecution or react in violence or anger. We are to honour the authorities and obey them, but to keep hold of our children may involve living somewhat under the radar, giving up all misguided pretensions to being 'people of influence' in mainstream society. As I've explored in recent posts, I'd suggest that we need to prepare such a mindset now, when it is all too easy to fall into the world's thinking and ways in a time of peace and affluence.

[NB: Sadly, the Traveller community itself was on the receiving end of child-kidnapping by the State. For example, this happened in Scotland from around 1895 to the outbreak of the Second World War, with many children aged from 7-14 forcibly emigrated to Canada and Australia, never to see their parents again. See Empty Lands by Robert Dawson for more information, and Ward Churchill's essay in War Crimes, Genocide and the West for a summary of the similar, even more extensive programs carried out against the First Nations peoples of North America]


Friday, 23 November 2018

Money and Power is often seen as something outside the realm of power: it is simply another line of capitalist business, while power is confined to the political sphere. But this perspective ignores the financial priveliges of leading countries, which are quite distinct from their military or political strengths. (Tony Norfield, The City, Verso Books, p7.)
To presume that social problems can be solved by the implementation of the correct (or even 'Godly') laws and policies is to ignore the enormous power of global finance and the immense influence and restrictions such powers place upon any office holder, far beyond the control of 'regulation'. Norfield's book is an excellent overview of the contemporary situation, but the Scriptures themselves closely relate worldly power and money in the examples of Caesar's coin and Romans 13.

An unholy trinity: worldly (political/business/banking) authority, incarnate through the mass media by the power of unrighteous mammon. Any attempt to work in such spheres really will end up in servitude to Mammon and not to God.
He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every quality for every other, even contradictory, quality and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace. (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Aakar Books Classics, p132.)

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Should Church Leaders be Paid a Salary?

I suggest these things tentatively, with openness to discussion and correction and no certainty as to what is in any given individual's heart.

Some salient points:

  • 1 Thess 4:11-12 and 2 Thess 3:7-12 clearly teach that all Christians should work so as not to be a burden to others in the church, an example which Paul himself set for all in the church to follow. Paul's meeting with the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:17-38 would make it clear that church leaders are comprehended within those who should follow Paul's example of work so that any spare funds can go to those truly in need.
  • 1 Tim 5:17-18 is the key passage used to justify a salaried eldership. But 'double honour' needn't refer to anything other than general respect and ad hoc hospitality and aid, as the Deuteronomy 25:4 quote suggests. The seemingly definitive quote from Luke 10:7 actually refers, in its context, to the acceptance of hospitality when visiting people at their houses for the work of the gospel, rather than to salaried work.
  • A less clear verse is 1 Peter 5:2. Doing nothing for filthy lucre could be taken as warning against either corruption or any salary or payment at all. In light of the other considerations listed here, it's at least plausibly the latter option.
  • Paul, travelling far from home and stable source of income like the other apostles, had a right to full-time support (1 Cor 9 - as well as the right to take a wife with him, indicating the itinerant nature of the gospel preaching involved), and there may still be similar situations where that is necessary, for example in missionary work (cf. 3 John), or in case of need, such as disability that precudes work. But his example of seeking to support oneself as much as possible should be followed, not taking up the right that one could have if not necessary.
A number of consequences follow from salaried church leadership. One is the professionalisation of the ministry, replete with required qualifications and business interviews, with elders not always emerging from among a congregation as the Scriptures call for. I am clearly in favour of serious study and wide reading for those who shepherd the church (and for Christians in general!), but the worldly model of full-time study at an accredited institution needs to be questioned and replaced by more informal, part-time approaches closer to regular church and work life. If Paul was able to study and carry out his pastoral work successfully while working, we do not need to fear that such is not possible or is sub-optimal for the church's health.

Second is the influence being salaried could have on an elder's fidelity to the Scriptures. If they are dependent on the congregation's support, there may well be an aversion to preaching things that would lose members and therefore the elder's livelihood. This may not be conscious: it may mean that a church leader simply has an instinctive aversion to entertaining certain interpretive options or ideas, even if he preaches other challenging doctrines from the Bible that a sufficient number of the congregation can tolerate. 'The deceitfulness of riches' is such that no one should ever think they would be immune to such influence in their ministry.

Finally, it is interesting to consider how, like the concept of a contractual church membership system beyond the sacraments, this is woven into the needs of or desire for a church size beyond what the average house can hold. A church must be larger and sufficiently middle class to be able to fund full-time leaders, often affecting where (or not) churches are planted, who they are made up of, and what areas become the base of churchly power and attitudes by providing the source of crucial capital flow.

The aim of a church plant becomes to grow large enough beyond the bounds of a living room to support a full-time pastor. Until then it is merely a 'proto-church', not fully arrived. But we must ask if, like seperate children's work and a contractual church membership system, these apparent necessities grow out of a misunderstanding of how big each individual congregation should be - and if bigger really is better in the first place. At the end of the day respectability and worldly influence may be greater influences in the usual church model than they should be.

Friday, 16 November 2018

For Further Research

As the powers of capital and technique  inexorably expand, capitalism will inevitably collapse and Mankind as we know it will, at least in tendency, be slowly subsumed and annihilated by the Machine. The Church must live as a prophetic witness against the suicidal power of Mammon and Babel rather than looking to a futile fascism, naive capitalism, or capital-shaped 'social justice' as the answer. To embrace any of these will be to unwittingly embrace the death-purposes at the heart of the demonic powers that rule the world and demand our allegiance (Rev 13:11-18). Instead, we must preach the theological truth of Man restored as God's image through faith only in Christ's death and resurrection, and live as the kingdom of God with an ethic of love that transcends the greed and enforced redistribution of worldly statecraft, however ineffective this will seem in the present age. Our transformation is one we await on the other side of the necessary suffering and persecution that speaks against the deathward demonic transformation inherent in the transhuman project.